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My Recovery Journey: Getting Back on the Horse
and Moving Forward

By: Emily Like
December 17, 2018
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My Recovery Journey: Getting Back on the Horse and Moving Forward

My story and recovery journey are a winding road, sometimes confusing, even to me.  But luckily, I look forward to spending the rest of this journey healthfully figuring out recovery and life for myself. While sharing my story makes me feel vulnerable, I hope that even for one person, it will make them feel less alone.  My hope is for everyone on this recovery journey to feel empowered by their strength in just taking the first step.

For me, negative body image started as a kid, I never really felt like I fit in due to my size. I thought no one liked me and I was the center of many jokes. I felt so different than anyone else, so left out, so unlike everyone else. I found myself throwing away lunches my mom packed for me, instead buying and eating “unhealthy” foods in the bathroom in hopes no one would see or judge me for what I was eating.

I use to try to wear the smallest uniform possible, even if I didn’t fit. I thought I simply needed to be smaller and prettier, and then people at school would finally like me. At school, the pain was jarring, and I felt this pain and pressure to change continue at home.

While my parents were only trying to help, some of their attempts really hurt – I would regularly go on diets, and I had a personal trainer by the age of 10. I always did these diets with my family, and felt ashamed because I didn’t lose as much weight as others. In hindsight, my parents were trying to help, but I think the perpetual diets and focus on weight hurt me in the long run.

While I knew I needed to finish school to pursue my dreams, I also knew I could no longer deal with the pressures and bullying. Eventually, I began home schooling. Though I was home schooled, I stayed involved in softball, choir, and my true passion, riding horses.

Once I began showing horses competitively, things really took a turn for the worst. I was trying all sorts of diets while riding up to 7 hours a day. My riding was really good, but inside, I was still suffering. No matter how good I was, it seemed as though my weight was always getting in my way. Regularly, I was told my second place would quickly turn to first if I could simply “lose some weight.”

Caving in to self-hate, I started restricting food all day, even when riding, working, and studying. I was eating very little or nothing at all, lying to my mom when she would ask if I’d eaten before practice. Sometimes, truly starving from malnourishment, I would binge in desperation for fuel. The ups and downs were exhausting – and on top of all this, I was just trying to figure out how to be a teenage girl. The starving and bingeing never filled the void my eating disorder created, but rather supported the self-hate cycle by creating extreme shame, fear, and guilt.

I was in a continuous cycle for years and I saw nothing wrong with it.

 

Getting Help

Eventually, my mom began to notice I had a problem, and she took me to see a therapist and a dietician recommended by The Alliance. Following a serious riding injury, my treatment team, family, and I decided this “time off” would be a good time for me to enter residential treatment, in hopes of making strides and changes within my life and recovery

I discharged from treatment after 3 ½ months and, soon after, could feel my eating disorder begin to resurface.

Looking back, I was not in the best place when leaving treatment. I wasn’t in a healthy environment and quickly relapsed into my eating disorder. To make matters worse, I introduced purging into my eating disorder. Purging became my eating disorder’s “answer” to my fear of food. I also began to self-harm in hopes of relieving pain. I found myself going down a deadly path, compounded by a true fear of food. I was at my sickest.

My body image was at an all-time low and I wanted to disappear.

I found myself not being honest with my family and treatment team, so not to disappointment anyone, but I was lying and hiding. This was a really low, scary time in my life. I was afraid.

That’s when I knew I needed to seek help again. I reached out to my Alliance family in desperate need of help to save myself. I needed a community of care, and what I got was an army of support.

 

Looking Ahead

I have been with my team for over a year now and know they saved me from a toxic, negative environment. Thanks to my treatment team, and The Alliance’s weekly support groups, I started to slowly see my life shifting back to what I deserved and wanted.

I now know that life is ups and downs; that life is full of picking yourself up and starting over again. Having the tools to recognize problematic, unhealthy behaviors doesn’t always mean it’s easy though.

Earlier this year, I severely hurt myself during a self-harming episode. I promised myself this would stop. It was time to pick myself up, dust myself off, and get back on the horse (pun intended).

Thanks to the community and tools I engage with at The Alliance, I have been able to keep this promise. Some days are harder than others, and sometimes I lean on my team for extra guidance – but now I know that I am not in the fight against my eating disorder alone. I know that I have a community of people rooting for me.

Most importantly, I am rooting for myself.

Comfort, understanding, and solace are what I find weekly in the support groups – where I am allowed to share my victories and my fears, all without judgement and all met with undeniable support.

Thanks to The Alliance, and the love and support of friends and family, I have been able to see my life in perspective. I now see what I want out of my life and see that I am jam-packed full of potential! I am thankful to feel like I have found my calling and passion: I’m taking steps to become a psychologist. I want to help people who feel as though they are incapable of feeling love, to see their true potential and the light they radiate.

I have learned to appreciate my journey, the ups and downs, and I look forward to the opportunities ahead.

Now I know my eating disorder does not define me or my future. Not all days are easy, but we all have the choice to keep moving forward – and that is what I am choosing to do each and every day!

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